Thursday, July 9, 2009

NIH guidelines on embryo research: worst may be yet to come

The final guidelines for federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research have been released by the NIH, and as expected they allow funding for research that requires the killing of human embryos (the guidelines may have other problems as well). The NIH apparently ignored the input of tens of thousands of Americans who objected to funding embryo-destructive research:
In a telephone briefing with the media July 6, the day before the final guidelines took effect, NIH acting director Dr. Raynard S. Kington said 30,000 of the approximately 49,000 comments received by NIH during a monthlong period of public comment opposed any federal funding of such research.

But those responses were "deemed not responsive to the question put forth," Kington said. "We did not ask them whether" to fund such research, "but how it should be funded."
Fortunately, the rules (for the time being) do not allow funding for research with human embryos created by cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer) or other means specifically for use in destructive research.

But as Wesley J. Smith notes, researchers are not and never were content with so-called "excess" embryos left over from in vitro fertlization; rather, the goal has been the production of embryos by cloning specifically for use in research and (potentially) medical treatments.

So the current NIH policy is a first step. A push for funding of destructive cloning research, and the elimination of the Dickey Amendment, is likely on the way.

Below is MCCL's comment submitted earlier this year to the NIH.
The stated purpose of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) draft guidelines is, in part, "to help ensure that NIH-funded research in this area is ethically responsible [and] scientifically worthy." Embryonic stem cell research, for which the draft guidelines allow federal funding, is neither ethically responsible nor scientifically worthy. First, it requires the prior killing of human embryos—distinct, living and whole organisms of the human species at the embryonic stage of development—in order to harvest their stem cells for experimentation. It treats the youngest and most vulnerable members of the human family as mere raw material that we may use for our own ends. The NIH guidelines would incentivize the ongoing destruction of nascent human life and force taxpayers to fund it.

Second, research with non-embryonic stem cells has already resulted in numerous medical benefits for human patients, and the exciting development of induced pluripotent stem cells has rendered obsolete any therapeutic justification for research with human embryos. (Indeed, Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the NIH, wrote on March 4, 2009, that "embryonic stem cells … are obsolete.") Diverting federal taxpayer dollars into morally dubious, scientifically problematic and increasingly unnecessary research—research opposed by a significant portion of the American public—is surely not a wise use of government resources. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), comprised of over 70,000 member families across the state of Minnesota, respectfully asks that the decision to fund this research be reconsidered.

We applaud the NIH guidelines, however, for prohibiting federal funding of research using embryonic stem cells derived from embryos created specifically for destructive research. Creating new human beings (by human cloning or other methods) solely for the purpose of killing them for their useful parts is radically at odds with the moral convictions of the vast majority of Americans. MCCL strongly urges that this NIH prohibition remain in place.